Zombo District, Uganda is located in the eastern part of the country bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Earlier this month, officials with the country’s health ministry reported two probable cases of pneumonic plague.

Uganda Image/Robert Herriman
Image/Robert Herriman

The initial case has died. She previously lived in Atungulei village in Mahagi District, Ituri Province, DRC. A second patient, a relative has presented to the hospital with similar illness.

According to the WHO, preliminary tests on a sputum specimen were positive for plague on rapid diagnostic test (RDT). Additional specimens were collected and transported to the Plague Laboratory in Arua for culture, and the test results are pending.

Fifty-five high risk contacts (family members, those who participated in the traditional burial and 11 health workers) have been identified and are under follow up.

In addition, there is information that three other people died of similar illness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been informed and investigations are ongoing.

Pneumonic plague, which is the most severe form of plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, can be transmitted between people through breathing airborne droplets or through contact with the patient’s bloody sputum. The severe lung infection has a high mortality rate, but it can be cured if treated with antibacterial drugs at an early stage.